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Ethnic origin and multiculturalism | Brazil |

Brazil Background Information Historical Development Political development Foreign population Ethnic origin Citizenship Emigration Irregular migration Refuge and asylum Conclusion References

Ethnic origin and multiculturalism

Sabina Stelzig

/ 3 Minuten zu lesen

Brazil is known for the fact that its population consists of people of all colours. As a result of centuries of international immigration, cities in particular, such as São Paulo, have developed into multicultural and multiethnic areas.

Mass flows of internal migrants, in some cases from regions thousands of kilometres away, have contributed to this effect. An emphasis on Brazil´s "tradition" of tolerance is found in just about all of the country's official descriptions of itself. Although multiculturalism, in the sense of different cultures and ethnicities living peacefully together, plays a great role in the way Brazilians see themselves, it has never been part of the political agenda.

The four population groups that have dominated Brazil since its settlement are so greatly mixed that it is often no longer possible to assign people to any one ancestral group. Brazil's population mix today consists of the original Portuguese colonialists, the descendants of Africans transported as slaves to Brazil, a very small degree of the various ethnic Amerindian groups, and various immigrant groups, mostly from Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Population by skin color or race, 2006 (in per cent) (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de

Approximately half of Brazil´s population has a not inconsiderable proportion of African ancestry. In 2006, 42.6 % of 187 million Brazilians appraised themselves as being of "mixed" race and 6.9% as being "black" (cf. Fig.). Almost half the total population (49.7 %) stated that their colour is "white". The remainder, 0.8 %, classified themselves as "yellow" (amarela), in other words of Asian or Indian descent. Figures given out annually by the Brazilian Federal Statistical Office relating to how Brazilians assess their own colour or race do not necessarily reflect reality, since a colour of "black" or "mixed" (parda) is held in lower esteem socially than "white".

Slavery was not officially abolished until 1888. In 1988, a hundred years after the abolition of slavery, the Constitutional Congress branded racism as a non-bailable crime with no limitation, subject to the penalty of confinement (Art. 5 Item XLII). The fact that, unlike European immigrants, displaced Africans received no integration assistance is one of the sources of poverty among Brazil's black population.

Public awareness of prejudice based on skin colour was slow to develop due to the social structures that had grown over the centuries and deeply rooted paternalism. Until the 1980s the government denied responsibility for human rights violations such as racism or even the existence of racism. Only at the beginning of the 1990s was there open dialogue between the government and various civil society groups, which led, in 1995, to the elaboration of the "National Programme of Human Rights" (Programa Nacional de Direitos Humanos, PNDH).

In 1997 the penalties for racism cited in the 1989 law to combat prejudices based on race or colour, ethnicity or religion were increased (Law 9,459, Art. 1 and 20). Under the presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, now in his second term of office, the new political awareness with regard to ethnic discrimination has been continued and intensified by the creation of various governmental bodies to combat ethnic inequality: in 2006 two international conferences whose main focus was on racial equality were held in Brazil. There is currently considerable debate about quota systems for blacks in the civil service.



  1. See IBGE (2006): Externer Link:

  2. In 2006 just 5.4% of whites earned one tenth of a monthly family income (per head) compared with 14.6% of the black and mixed population. By contrast, 15.7 % of whites earned ten tenths of a monthly family income (per head) compared with only 4.1 % of the black and mixed population. IBGE, Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios 2006.

  3. See "Programa Nacional de Direitos Humanos": Externer Link:

  4. The Second Conference of Intellectuals from Africa and the Diaspora (II Conferência de Intelectuais da África e da Diáspora) and the Regional Conference of the Americas on Developments and Challenges for the Action Plan against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (Conferência Regional das Américas sobre Avanços e Desafios no Plano de Ação contra o Racismo, a Discriminação Racial, a Xenofobia e as Intolerâncias Correlatas, see Ipea (2007).

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